Today was UNREAL. We started the day with class (of course), and we talked about the importance of different politics and political systems in globalization. It was interesting because, as anthropology students (and as a budding anthropologist myself), politics is just another part of studying cultures.
After class, we all piled into our two vans (we’ve now dubbed them the Red Baron and the Green Hornet) and headed back up near Ngerchelong to where the Ngardmau waterfall is located. We got there, and it was a short hike down into the falls. It was so beautiful. We had the chance to zipline while we were there, and about 6 students did that. I got some great pictures of them, they looked like they had so much fun even though they were all pretty scared!
We continued the hike down, and it was a little terrifying. A bunch of people kept slipping and sliding on the rocks down into the falls. We found a really cool swimming hole with a mini waterfall, so we took a break there to swim around a bit before we made it to the big waterfall. Once we did make it (across a scary bridge!)…it was amazing. My mind was so blown. There were rocks to sit on underneath the water and we all just hung out (of course, had a photo shoot), and got to lie in the sun.
One the way up from the waterfalls, a few of us rode this monorail. It was so weird! It was this little mini train that literally moved slower than the others who were walking to the top! It was cute, though, and fun to be able to take some cool pictures.
After the waterfall, we drove what’s called the “Ring Road” on the way to the Palauan capitol. It was beautiful! They views of the tropical jungles and ocean were so amazing. The capitol was incredible, too. We got to walk around and it was so strange how there was no security or anything. We just roamed the grounds and checked everything out. The building was huge, and had domes and columns reminiscent of the typical U.S. capitol building, and yet had tiles with intricate tribal designs and traditional ideas.
Today was so fun. After reflection, we were all so exhausted! We all got together in Morgan and my room to play some more Mafia together, but then we all couldn’t wait to pass out.
Tomorrow is our free day. We have Sundays off from class and work and stuff, so half the group is going on a guided kayak tour through the Rock Islands. The rest of us are going to one of the local resorts. It has a beach and a pool and a Jacuzzi, so we’re pretty excited to check it out and relax.
Today started off perfectly. As many of you are dying to know, I’m sure, Morgan and I found real coffee! We went to Best Coffee and Donut House, a place off the main road that was scoped by our comrades earlier in the week. We begged them to show us and of course, they obliged. It was delicious. We had great coffee and there were so many donuts and bagels to choose from.
While we waited for Chad to return from his radio interview (they organized a chat about nutrition and food security and had Chad on there with three local high school students to talk about the work we’re doing here…so now he’s famous), we all sat outside and played this game called Mafia. Even Kelly was into it! It sounds really weird (because it is), but basically people get killed and we have to figure out who did it. It’s really fun and involves a lot of story telling, which is great for an outrageous group like this.
After that, it was time for class. Our readings for the day were mostly about interviewing techniques. Since next Wednesday and Thursday will consist of going into randomly selected homes in our two study sites (Ngerchelong, the one we mapped a couple days ago, and Ngerbeched, which you’ll read more on in a bit), we clearly need to make sure we’re all on the same page and well trained to conduct the interview using the instrument that Chad and his URAP scholar Nathan (who is also on the trip) constructed. We also read an interesting piece about expired foods that are being sent to Palau (this is more a thing of the past few decades, but still happens today). I’m getting really excited about the interviews; I think everyone else is, too.
Once class was over, it was time for a meeting with the executive director of Ulkerruil A Klengar (UAK) about Palauan life and traditional culture. He was extremely knowledgeable and fielded our questions effortlessly. He talked to us about what he believed was the key to maintaining the Palauan identity: language. I found it interesting to note, however, that he also said it was one of the main cultural elements being lost among Palauan youth. He discussed some of the ways he was trying to combat this as well.
During the discussion, another man who was a teacher at the local high school came to ask/answer some questions with us. He said he had some questions he wanted to ask, and he said, “those burning words…the declaration of independence…is that still important to you?” Woah. Talk about critical thinking. I immediately started to tear up, and our group all had a lot of varied but well thought out responses. Honestly though, I had never really been forced to think of things this way.
“We want to embrace the U.S.’ level of idealism, these are supposed to be your burning, guiding principles. Do you still feel this way?” he asked. He also forced us to answer even more tough questions, about American individualism vs. nationalism and asked us what preoccupies us as Americans. Seriously? My brain hurt, but in a good way.
I came here to experience another culture, and help people, and get experience that I can’t get in the states, and already, less that halfway through the trip, I feel like I’ve been helped more than I could ever have imagined. I feel like I have so much more to bring back to the states with me than I could ever have brought here.
He also had some interesting things to say about our research. He said that within a country, often what unifies people is a common enemy. “We have a real enemy,” he said, “our unifying element in Palau is NCD [noncommunicable disease]”. He said that Palau was a collective society. “I don’t have a position in my clan—I have the clan’s position”. He was an extremely interesting guy, as was the executive director of UAK, and I feel so blown away by their comments and ideas.
After the meeting we had to map our second study site, a neighborhood in Koror called Ngerbeched. The weather was beautiful (not quite as wet as last time), so it went pretty quickly. So many locals were coming out of their houses and asking us about the work we were doing, and they seemed really excited to meet us. A lot of them had a lot of things to say when we mentioned we were looking at nutrition and NCD’s. I think the interviews will yield a lot of insight; people seem anxious to share their thoughts.
After dinner, a group of us went to a new Italian restaurant for dinner. The food was great, but the coolest thing happened as we were leaving. The restaurant was staffed almost entirely by people about our age, and as we were leaving, one of the waiters, Adrian, approached us. “Excuse me,” he asked nervously. “Are you guys the college students from that school in the U.S.?” We told him we were, and he absolutely lit up. “I’m so excited to meet you!” He was a student at Palau Community College, and he was genuinely thrilled to talk to us. He told us he had a lot of questions for us and asked us if he could come talk to us at PCC sometime. I hope he does!
Now, more readings and prep for tomorrow. Tomorrow we hike up to Ngardmau waterfall, which is supposed to be beautiful. I can’t wait to swim and sit in the sunshine!
So, after being without internet for two days (the horror!), I posted Day 3 earlier, and now here’s Day 4. I slept through the night last night, and woke up at 7am instead of 4am, so I feel pretty good about that!
The day started early with us hopping on a boat to the island of Peleliu. The boat ride was about an hour long, and was absolutely beautiful. We rode through the electric blue ocean and all of our jaws were dropped. “I think we all died on the plane to Tokyo and this is actually heaven, because no way this is real”, remarked Dustin during the trip. Definitely one of the more accurate ways I’ve heard to describe how amazing it is here. We rode past the Rock Islands, the famously beautiful group of islands in the middle of the Pacific ocean that make Palau such a wonderful destination for divers.
We also got to see where they filmed season 10 of Survivor, which took place in Palau. Once the boat reached Peleliu, we where whisked away in a tour bus. Our tour guides, Botto (I may be spelling that wrong) and Tangie, were absolutely wonderful. As I mentioned, Peleliu is famous for its historic battle sites, as the Americans stormed the beach of Peleliu in an attempt to attack the Japanese, who were dug in there for quite some time at that point. There were old tanks everywhere, and we were able to climb all over them and hop in them an everything (our tour guide even told Marshall to sit INSIDE the tank. Who does that?!). Definitely not something you’d be able to do at any historic site in the states.
We saw all these old Japanese bunkers, many with huge holes blasted through them. It was really incredible. Tangie is the foremost expert on all things Peleliu, so it was so fortunate that we could have him with us. He told us so much about Palauan culture before and after WWII, and shared all sorts of stories with us about the war. We visited Orange Beach, the beach that the Americans came in on. We also saw the 1st Marine Corps Division memorial site, where there were wonderful monuments, ruins of a chapel, and beautiful plants spelling out “USA”.
Thousands and thousands of lives were lost in this engagement, both Japanese and American. It was amazing to see how they respected and were so appreciative of the Americans for coming in during the war. “The Americans are our heroes,” said Botto. It made me feel pretty “slimey”, as Chad would say, that they are so conscious and aware and reverent of America, while the insane majority of Americans have never even heard of Palau or have any idea about the battle of Peleliu.
After visiting countless wonderful battle sites, it was time for swimming. We were going to go snorkeling, but we’re doing that in 11 days and permits are only good for 10, so it wasn’t worth it. Instead, we pulled up to this incredible swimming hole. It looked small and not very promising at first, but when we walked up to it and looked down the 10 foot drop to the cool, blue water, we knew we had struck gold.
Once down inside the whole, there were caves with stalactites and stalagmites that we could explore and goof off in (something this group of people is extremely good at). It was amazing. I was terrified to jump at first, but I was so glad I did. The water was perfect and salty and we had so much fun. Definitely my favorite memory of the trip so far (and it’s only day 4!).
After all of the excitement, we embarked on the boat trip back home, which of course was just as breathtaking as the trip out. We headed back to the hotel for class, where we talked about our assigned readings on globalization and its effects on global and local economies, etc. I learned that Palau’s GDP is about 170 million dollars a year, and their debt is about 12.7% of that. Not great, but certainly not as bad as other countries. With a projected 150,000 people coming into the country each year as tourists (literally over 7 times the country’s population), the Palauan economy is sufficient but not ideal. Minimum wage here is about $2.50 (Palau uses the U.S. dollar for currency). Then, we headed to Rock Island Café for dinner, and Morgan and I stocked up on more water and canned coffee, which we can never have enough of. On deck is more reading for tomorrow’s class.
Tomorrow is going to be another jam packed day; we’ll be up in the morning for class time, followed by more community mapping of our other study location (a neighborhood very close by to the hotel). Then we have a meeting with a wonderful dude about Palauan culture. I’m super excited.
Hopefully we’ll have a little downtime in the afternoon; I’m starting to feel like a Palau robot. It’d be great to have awhile to nap and watch TV (weird Australian versions of TLC and the Style Network, but still).
Day 3: The ABC's of Palau: Ambassador, Birthday Cake, Community Mapping
Today started pretty early for me. I’ve still been wrecked by jet lag, so I was wide awake at 4am. I got to chat with a lot of people from home, though, since it was mid afternoon. Now, however, I am absolutely exhausted.
We got up and headed to the U.S. Embassy first thing this morning. The Embassy is brand new, as Palau only recently installed an ambassador to the U.S. a couple years ago. Ambassador Helen Reed Rowe was wonderful. We got to meet her and a few of her other staff members, take some fun pictures (we’re hoping to be in the papers!) and then chat about Palau. She asked all of us about ourselves, and shared her take on the current health care situation, as well as updating us on Palau’s economy and other important aspects of life here. She was a really smart and entertaining woman to talk to, and I was so grateful to have met her. She seemed thoroughly impressed by the work we were doing here, and she and her staff are looking forward to hearing about our findings. One of my favorite things she said today reminded me of our focus here, she said, “the US Air Force wanted to send doctors here to Palau. So, I asked the Minster of Health (Dr. Stevenson Kuartei, who we’re essentially doing the research for) what kind of doctors he wanted. He said that was great, but what he really wanted was to send a doctor from Palau to the United States, so he could learn and then come back and stay in Palau”. That’s the crux of our work here, I think. We don’t just want to come in, do our thing, tell them what to do, and then leave. We want to do work that will help us create meaningful solutions that the Palauans themselves will actually want to implement. That’s the only way we’ll change the epidemic of noncommunicable diseases that plague so many Palauans.
After the meeting with the ambassador, we had to head out to Ngerchelong, one of our study sites for the in depth interviews we’ll be conducting next week. It is a rural island pretty far out from the capitol city Koror, where we are staying (and 70% of the population is living). We broke up into three groups and each had an area of the region to map out; that is, we had to write down the location and description of every house in the area, as well as indicate whether or not they seemed to have a garden of some sort. Of course, while this was all happening it was pouring down rain, so our maps, notebooks, and ourselves were (and still are) soaked to the bone.
While mapping, we walked by one house where two people were standing outside. Obviously confused by what the heck we were doing outside in a monsoon with our maps and whiney dispositions, they asked us if we were okay and we tried to explain what we were up to. A few minutes later, they pulled up in their car and asked us if we were SURE we didn’t need help. We must have looked pretty pathetic. We told them we were okay, but they still pulled up beside us and checked in with us one more time before leaving us to our own devices. The generous and kind spirit of the locals here is truly incredible.
While my group members and I were pretty sure we were stranded and were going to have to start our own equivalent of Survivor: Palau 2, we successfully finished our area and were rescued by Leonard, a Palau local who came with us to help the teams with the mapping.
Leonard pulling up to the five of us sitting in the road, in the rain, looking miserable was like finding water in a desert. He put us in the bed of his truck, and while the rain whipped at our faces, he drove us down to this dock. The ocean was sprawled out before us as we watched 4 local boys play in the shallow waters and throw mud. We could see all the way out to the reef, and Leonard shared his experiences with local fishermen and fishing culture with us. He also talked to us about how coral bleaching and climate change was affecting life in Palau. Having this one-on-one time with such an interesting and helpful local was unexpected and really special. He then brought us to meet up with the rest of the group and we headed back towards Koror, wet and (for the first time since we’ve been here) freezing.
Our arrival back in Koror meant it was time for class discussion. Chad procured us a room at Palau Community College (PCC for short), which is basically across the street from our hotel. We headed over there and got to meet the Dean of PCC, who was excited for us to be there and, in true Palauan spirit, very kind and generous (though I believe he was originally from Hawaii). We had some really interesting chats about what we had seen and learned today from the ambassador and from the community mapping work. We talked about today’s assigned readings, as well; a selection from our book on the history of globalization, an explanation of Palau’s Compact of Free Association with the U.S., and Wallerstein’s analysis of the World Systems Theory. All very interesting. I had never heard of a Compact of Free Association before, which is Palau’s agreement with the U.S. since declaring their independence just 17 short years ago. Imagine, a country only 17 years old? I’m older than this country…weird.
We went to a Korean place for dinner, about 8 of us, and Chad and Kelly came too, which was fun. Dinner was pretty delicious, but I’m hoping for some variety soon. The tourist-friendly asian style cuisine is delicious, and could be a lot worse, but it gets old fast.
After dinner, I came back to the hotel room with intentions of doing tonight’s assigned reading, but ended up falling asleep. I woke up to a knock on our door, and Marshall told Morgan and I to come “look at something cool”. Of course, because it’s something cool, we obliged. We walked down the hall to another one of our friends rooms and when we entered, everyone (including Chad and Kelly) were there with a cake they had bought for me at a local bakery. They had candles in it, and had written “Happy Birthday Alex” across it in big gel letters. They all sang to me and I got to blow out the candles. Since my birthday was Sunday, the day we left Roanoke, I guess they had wanted to be able to celebrate with me. I was (and still am, as that was minutes ago) so moved by this. I am so lucky to be on this trip with some of the kindest and most thoughtful people that I have had the pleasure of meeting at Roanoke College. This experience has already been amazing, and so much of it is because of these great people. The weird antics in the vans on the way to our various locations, and the time we spend together acting strange and laughing as a group are already some of the most cherished memories that I have.
Now I’m getting all sappy, but seriously, these people are rockstars. So much fun, so positive, and so refreshing to be around.
Tomorrow is Peleliu day. We’ll be up early to take a long boat trip to the island of Peleliu, where one of the bloodiest Pacific battles of WWII took place. There are some amazing historical sites here, and we’ll also get to do some snorkeling, which I am just thrilled about. If I didn’t get in that water soon, there was going to be a crisis. It will be nice to do some relaxed, tourist-y things before more intense interviewing and heavy research stuff comes down the pipeline.
I can’t wait to see how the next few weeks are going to unfold. It’s only been 3 days and I’m already so enamored with the people, places, and experiences of this strange little island country that no one’s ever heard of.
First of all, you can see some pictures and stuff below (I uploaded some cool ones earlier!) from today’s adventures.
Morgan and I got about 3 hours sleep between the two of us (about 2.8 of which were mine) last night, but we still woke up today excited to check everything out in daylight. There are roosters and chickens everywhere…one particularly excited rooster made sure to let us know it was time to wake up…all morning starting at about 6 am.
The weather here is hot, the sun isn’t too brutal but the air feels like pure water, still. It’s not terrible, it feels pretty good actually, but just walking around Koror today for 45 minutes was enough to have Morgan and I pretty sweaty. We got up and headed out in search of coffee and a few groceries. We were pretty successful; there are plenty of little grocery stores within just a short walk of our hotel. We scoped out some cool looking restaurants (burgers, Korean, Thai, Indian…you name it) that we want to try, too. The locals are friendly and helpful here, and everyone has been really polite to us. We were able to get some cereal, granola bars, fresh fruit, and lots of Diet Coke, and everything was pretty cheap. The most expensive thing was cereal (about 5 bucks a box); soda and water were only 75 cents a can/bottle or so.
After much deliberation, no coffee. Anyone who knows Morgan or me knows that this is a problem. We kept walking with our groceries in tow, hoping that a Starbucks would appear among the palm trees. No such luck.
We walked by Palauan Community College, where we would be again later this afternoon for class time with Chad, our professor. When we were about to give up forever, Morgan had the brilliant idea to stop into a little gas station to see if they had any coffee. Among the plentiful cans of Budweiser and Natty Light were shining beacons in the darkness….cans of coffee. Having never seen coffee in a can, we examined our options and settled on one promising looking brand with “Pokka Milk Coffee, Real Brewed” printed on the front. From Singapore, I think. At about 75 cents a can, it was hard to say no.
Back at the hotel, we settled in to work on our homework for this afternoon and munch on some cereal. We cracked open our coffees nervously…but they were delicious, so we’ll definitely be living on those for the rest of the trip. We had another exciting moment this morning, too. I was chatting away with Morgan (working on this blog) when she says to me, “There’s a lizard on the wall!” Of course I freak out, and when we look over there is definitely a small lizard running amok around our hotel room. Morgan was on top of her game, though, and grabbed this small plastic container that was on top of our toilet (why, we have no idea) and quickly made attempts to trap him. While she was working on that, I ran down the hall to the boys’ room and asked them for help. Being boys, they were more than excited to offer their assistance. We successfully got the lizard out of the room, but we’ve learned that our door isn’t sealed at the bottom from the outside. So, more lizard invasions could be in our future. We stuffed towels in the doorway, though, and it seems to be working for now!
There is the CUTEST little cat that lives here at the hotel. Her name is Tiny Cat, obviously. Apparently there is quite the variety of animals here at the hotel. I’ve heard rumors of a parrot and a “walrus bird” on the third floor, a monkey in the backyard…and, of course, more chickens than Tyson would know what to do with. No wonder they serve eggs at every restaurant!
After our eventful morning it was time for lunch. Morgan and I met up with Colleen and Brooke and headed to Rock Island Café, a really cool lunch spot with good American, Filipino, Asian, and other cool food. Following lunch was a driving tour of the area, lead by the fearless Chad. He took us around Koror.
He showed us the hospital, where the Ministry of Health is (the Minister of Health is the dude we’re doing the research for, and we’ll present to him before we leave here). The water here is BEAUTIFUL. I had no idea I was going to be surrounded by palm trees and the most gorgeous blue water I’ve ever seen.
Speaking of palm trees….Morgan and I found a coconut when we stopped to check out the ocean on our tour. Chad, Kelly, and the rest of our companions on the tour had quite a laugh watching Morgan and I pry the darn thing open using our bare hands and a rock. We are both a little cut up from the adventure (Morgan has a nice coconut-paper cut and I think I have a coconut splinter), but we cracked the thing open and got to try the coconut! Spoiler alert: it tasted weird. Possibly not worth the effort. Then, Pablo, a local, saw our struggles and came over and grabbed us a coconut from a tree, peeled it open, and cut a hole in it so we could all try the coconut water. Pretty cool stuff. Pablo must think we’re all crazy. I also found a fish skeleton….weird stuff. Probably shouldn’t have touched it. Oops. Don’t worry Mom, I washed my hands!!
Also on the tour, we spotted a place where we can go swimming, that’s within walking distance. Making immediate arrangements to get there ASAP. After rinsing the dirt off from the epic battle with the coconut, and taking a really hardcore nap, it was time for class. Who knew we had to learn stuff while we were here? We talked about Bronislaw Malinowski, the first dude to really do the kind of ethnographical research that we are doing here in Palau, and went over some more of the logistics. We shared some of our initial impressions and potential fears. Then, a group of us went out for dinner—tonight we tried this really good Thai place. The food was pretty cheap and delicious. I had a shrimp and pineapple curry, if you were wondering. My shower tonight was icy cold, but it was nice to get my body temp down, and it helped the insane swelling of my feet a little, so there’s a brightside.
My total spider kill count is at 3 now, bringing my lifetime spider kill count to a whopping…3. Yes, overcoming my fear of (very small, unobtrusive) spiders is a work in progress and I’m darn proud of myself. In recent history, upon a spider sighting I would just cry and beg someone else to do the dark deed, but hey, I’m taking charge. Go me.
Now, it’s time to get the readings done for tomorrow and get some much needed shuteye. Tomorrow morning we’ll go to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Palau (can’t believe I’m actually typing that), and then head to a rural neighborhood at the very tip of the Palauan islands (Ngerchelong) to do some community mapping for our research.
Then, we’ll have class time again. I definitely miss some stuff about home already; my family, Dunkin Donuts, my comfy bed and shower, that kind of stuff. But giving up Dunks and a more comfortable bed hardly seems like a terrible price to pay to be in such an amazing place doing some really cool work. More adventures are on the way!
travel started bright and early on Sunday, May 13th (my birthday and mother’s day! sorry i couldn’t be with ya, mom). Morgan (my sorority sister and best friend who is with me in Palau, along with 13 other students) and i woke up at her house in Richmond at 5 am so we could begin the trek to Richmond with her wonderful parents. it was a long drive, followed by a short flight to atlanta. i’d never been to atlanta, and i spent all of maybe 20 minutes in the airport, but it seems lovely. then it was time for the colossal flight to tokyo—about 14 hours total.
the flight was long and tedious, but smooth and uneventful. i watched four movies; the change up (jason bateman and ryan reynolds make for great eye candy but it was sort of dumb), something borrowed (so adorable), bad teacher (dumb), and shawshank redemption (easily my best choice, i’d never seen it and it was incredible). we had a reading assignment and journal entry (we have to do them every day and they are graded, basically reading responses) to do on the plane so that passed the time. they fed us three meals, none of which were particularly delicious or awful. those lucky individuals in first class had these awesome looking pods they could sleep in…jealous is an understatement.
finally, we were in tokyo. we flew over a huge golf course and lots of rice paddies, so it was pretty cool to see. it was the middle of the day in tokyo, so it was light out and there was lots to look at. we headed over to our gate for palau and boarded pretty quickly. holy guacamole, i was getting nervous.
the 5 hour flight to palau went by fast. they served another meal, supposedly, but i slept almost the entire flight. well, slept and ate sour patch kids. as we were landing, i kept wondering where the heck the plane was going. i saw nothing but darkness until the wheels hit the tarmac and we pulled up in front of a small (seriously small) airport. oh, hello palau.
the air was so warm, and breathing here feels like you’re literally breathing in pure water vapor. some wonderful people from the hotel met us off the plane (after immigration and customs). they took all of our suitcases and loaded them into the back of a flatbed truck. a nice palauan man sat in the back of the flatbed with our bags, and the truck drove off. now…how were we going to get there?
my fears put aside when two vans pulled up. we all piled into them. kelly, the other “grown up” who is accompanying us aside from chad, pulled into the front left side of the van. “oh, kelly, are you driving?” i asked her. “no…….?” she laughed. confused, i looked around the front of the van. there was no steering wheel in front of kelly! the van’s actual driver, a wonderful woman who works at the Guest Lodge, hopped into the right side of the van and we pulled away from the curb. woah. good thing i don’t have to drive here! thus was my first “other side of the car but not the road” driving experience.
we arrived here at the hotel just a few hours ago. morgan and i spent some time fretting over the internet (which is slow and finicky, but exists) and then we unpacked. our hotel room is old, nothing fancy, but clean and will definitely suit our needs!
i guess now is the time where we try to sleep. it’s 2 am in palau on tuesday morning…considering i left at 5 am on sunday, it feels like a 48 hour day!
also, as i write this, this weird nightlight/flashlight thing that morgan’s mom sent us just exploded. there may or may not have been flames.
tomorrow morgan and i will hunt for coffee and brave the grocery store, then have class/orientation time with the rest of the group!
“What you’ve done becomes the judge of what you’re going to do – especially in other people’s minds. When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.”—William Lest Heat